More Sun than Rain: Mind-Set in Northern Washington
Washington is notorious for throwing the kitchen sink of weather at thru-hikers. Despite being blessed with ideal hiking conditions for the first four months of my journey, I knew my luck was about to run out. Despite rain on the first night in Washington, the sky remained blue and I was still sleeping under the stars.
About halfway between White Pass and Snoqualmie Pass, the weather began to turn. At first, the rain felt like a miracle. There were very few days before entering Washington when there was rain, or even mist. Random showers throughout the day and night were a welcome change, but the extended forecast was looking hostile.
The sun was out as I descended into the small ski town of Snoqualmie Pass with fellow hikers Rawhide and Wifey. (Note: Wifey’s original trail name was Young Beard, but was cut down to YB, and then was mistaken for Wifey. Naturally, Wifey stuck!) Knowing that a huge, hot breakfast was in our near future, we hauled down the final hill into town. Despite the last day of sunshine for a while, we spent the day in town. Several of my teammates from university came to visit from Seattle and the beer kept flowing at the local brewery. The day slipped by us and we woke up the following morning in the rain.
This day marked the first day of rain for seven straight days. We chose to make camp earlier than usual to allow as much time as possible to dry our drenched layers. The second I took off my soaking wet shoes and socks, my feet began steaming and my tent began to stink of a dirty hiker. Like any other night, I proceeded with my evening chores: make dinner, organize food for the next day, write a haiku, and eat dinner. This night, however, I spent additional time trying to strategically hang my damp clothes in an attempt to dry them overnight.
The following morning, I awoke to the sound of drops on my tent. As I reluctantly opened the vestibule, I was amazed to see that the sun was poking out between some clouds. Rawhide, Wifey, and I quickly seized our window to pack up out of the rain and were soon on our way. But of course, the sun was hidden behind the clouds in minutes and the rain was pouring down once again.
At this point, we had two choices: let the weather bring down our morale or embrace it. This is when Rawhide, Wifey, and I began stating the mantra “more sun than rain,” even in the middle of a downpour. We also started yelling “bluebird” anytime we saw a patch of blue sky, no matter the size. Our fellow hikers must have thought we were crazy, but our spirits were soaring.
Luckily our third straight day of rain was a town day. Our original hope was to be in and out of town in the same day, but we decided to spend the night at the local Mountaineers Lodge to dry out our gear. The three of us rolled into the lodge, hungry and exhausted. Everything we owned was wet and we were ready for a warm and dry night’s sleep. Our timing at the lodge couldn’t have been better because a hearty dinner of shepherds pie was being served and a constant flow of hot drinks was available. Talk about hiker heaven!
The following morning, we sipped coffee by the massive fireplace as we waited for the post office to open. We gorged ourselves on half a fried chicken each from a local restaurant, picked up our resupply packages, and eventually mustered up the courage to hit the soggy trail once again. Unlike any other town stop, the three of us left the lodge with the Final Countdown on replay. This was our last town stop with cell service until Canada and our excitement for the end was building.
Despite spending less than 24 hours at the lodge, all three of us felt recharged and ready to take on the wet weather in our future. The elevation profile was also becoming more shark-toothy (or jagged) and we were climbing upward of 9,000 feet per day. Our chants of “more sun than rain” were becoming more frequent and I felt as though I was slowly losing my mind each day.
The sixth day of rain was especially challenging when the trail was littered with blowdowns and thick reeds. The three of us had hit our breaking point, but I was confident the trail wasn’t going to beat us.
That night, Wifey came into camp and said, “I need to finish on the 20th, for my wife.” Rawhide and I both responded with, “We’re going with you.”
The friendships that are developed in a thru-hike are unlike any other. We see each other on our best and worst days, we show vulnerability to these people that even our closest friends at home have never seen. These friendships are raw and beautiful all at the same time. Wifey became a parent of my family and the three of us were committed to completing this trail together. That night, we all stewed in our tents and developed a plan of attack to make the impossible, possible.
The following day was our seventh straight day of rain and it was by far the wettest. The first three hours of hiking were spent in a straight downpour. Our rain gear had soaked through and we hiked through the entire day without any breaks. By the time we got to the last pass of the day, the rain had turned to snow. Knowing that our daylight was limited we descended as far as we could in an attempt for a warmer night’s sleep.
Cold and exhausted, the three of us rolled into camp at the first flat spot we could find. The following morning, we were optimistic that the sun would be out. Wifey was the first to look out of his tent and he told us that the sky was blue. I was in disbelief. Slowly, I emerged from my tent, saw the blue sky, and yelled “bluebird” as loud as I could. The sun was finally out!
Although the three of us were handling the foul weather relatively well, we were ready for some sunshine. As each of us emerged from the trees, we felt the warmth of the sun. Since everything we owned was saturated with moisture, we immediately began to steam due to the chilly morning temperatures. We stood in the first clearing and absorbed all the glorifying rays of the sun as we stared up at massive walls of granite with a fresh dusting of snow on top. Wifey, Rawhide, and I had survived seven straight days of rain and we were experiencing pure bliss in this moment.
Now, the miles weren’t going to hike themselves and we had a steep fire alternate to look forward to. Since I tend to sightsee and trot along at a slower pace, I sent the boys ahead. Soon, however, I was reunited with them at a junction. (Note: Neither Wifey or Rawhide downloaded any maps for the fire alternates—they were relying purely on my navigation.) When I got closer, I asked what was up. Their response—we don’t know which way to go. I looked at the clearly marked trail junction and read the sign—horse ford to the right and foot log to the left.
Once I read the sign, I immediately doubled over laughing. Both Rawhide and Wifey were confused. Once I composed myself, I told them to read the sign again. It took a few tries, but eventually they connected the dots that the junction of marking a foot bridge and a ford for an upcoming creek crossing. They told me that they would have taken the horse ford because it was downhill. Men…
We definitely had a good laugh over that one!
Our mileage goal for the day was ambitious and the hiking was only going to get harder. The Bannock Lakes first alternate brought us through a small resort called Holden Village, where many thru-hikers took a bus to the ferry to the tiny town of Stehekin. But I was not about to disrupt my continuous foot path from Mexico and luckily Rawhide and Wifey were in on it too!
The alternate brought us up vicious switchbacks and our pace was slow going. At this point, my right shoe had a thre- inch tear across my arch and I was quickly becoming grumpy by a shoe full of sand. Eventually the trail leveled out and the trees cleared into a beautiful alpine meadow. I hoped that Wifey and Rawhide has chosen to cut our losses on making the bus into town that night and eat lunch here. And my hopes were rewarded.
Next to a lovely cascading stream, I saw each of them emptying their packs in the sun. Our stuff would finally be dry! As we ate and soaked up the sorely missed sunshine, we chose to go to plan B and complete the fire alternate that night before heading into town in the morning. This was an easy decision as we ate hot lunches of couscous and ramen and washed it down with hot coffee as we watched the moisture evaporate from our gear.
The following morning we woke up dry for the first time in a week. After hiking until 10 p.m. and getting kicked out of the picnic area by the ranger (I’m still bitter), we woke up on the side of the road. The thought of warm cinnamon rolls motivated me to quickly get out of my sleeping bag. This was the day of our final resupply in the tiny town of Stehekin, WA, which can only be reached by foot, boat, or plane.
Just before town, an urgent shuttle stop was made at the local bakery. We had ten minutes to make some tough choices of what treats to pack out. Rawhide immediately took control and ordered six cinnamon rolls. Once I was able to think straight after the overwhelming smell of baked goods, I bought two stuffed croissants, a piece of chocolate coffee cake, a massive cupcake, and four cinnamon rolls.
Giddy, we boarded the shuttle once again and made our way into town. Wifey and I picked up our packages and met Rawhide by the shores of Lake Chelan. Fueled on sugar and the Final Countdown on repeat, we busted out our resupply and were on the next shuttle back to the trailhead.
On this entire trail, I only really insisted on camping in one specific spot. This was the night that we were pushing our timing to make it to the top of Cutthroat Pass. Our hustle out of town set us up well and we had already crushed 20 miles by dark. Rawhide, Wifey, and I got our headlamps on and tackled the final climb in the dark.
Cutthroat Pass has a special place in my heart because it is where I was really inspired to hike the entire Pacific Crest Trail. Two years ago, I spent four days hiking a 35-mile stretch of the PCT with my fellow students on a 50-day Outward Bound course. I remember hiking through Cutthroat Pass and being blown away by its beauty. From that moment on, I knew one day I would be back.
The three of us made it to the top and set up camp in the dark. Despite temperatures in the 20s, I insisted on sleeping out. The following day needed to be a big one in order to set us up well for a short day to the border. We set our alarms for 4 a.m. and were soon snoring.
Our alarms sounded too quickly, yet we all woke up. No one was quite ready to make moves and I insisted on staying for first light; we all made coffee and chitchatted the morning away. Before we knew it, the horizon was turning orange and it was time to hike. This morning was by far the best on trail.
Tears of joy were in my eyes as I walked across the ridge of Cutthroat Pass. The clouds were different shades of orange and pink and the sky was a brilliant shade of purple. I was overwhelmed with feelings of beauty and accomplishment. This was one of those moments on trail that I wanted to last forever.
But time and miles go on, and before I knew it the feeling of bliss was traded for humor as my “good shoe” tore wide open. Luckily Wifey and Rawhide were close by and able to provide some duct tape as I doubled over laughing at the pitiful sight of my shoe. It had torn probably five inches and my foot was flapping about in a mess of fabric. After literally taping my shoe to my foot, the three of us were on our way once again. Thank you, Pac Man!
I did my best to not let my shoe frustrations get to me, but they really were as I found myself climbing for what felt like an eternity. Finally, the top was in sight and the views were stunning. I bit into a celebratory cinnamon roll and felt like a new person. Next stop, Hart’s Pass—the last road intersecting the PCT in the US.
The sugar high didn’t last long, as my stomach began to growl. After 26 straight miles with no more than two ten-minute breaks, I was ready for lunch. I hobbled into Hart’s Pass, grumpy and unwilling to night hike. Once I had some real food and a cold beer (thank you kind day hiker), I was ready to hike the last 35 miles to Canada in one go.
By 5 p.m., we were leaving the guard station and the last signs of civilization in the US. The hiking came easy as we trotted along a flat river bed. We spoke of our fears when we returned to the real world; mine being introducing myself as Cowgirl, followed by a fist bump and a fart. That one stopped us in our tracks as we tried to contain our laughter!
Each step we took brought us closer to Canada and we kept our momentum going; but by 10 p.m., the conversation had slowed and the three of us were hanging on by a thread. Our final crux of the day was navigating a deep creek crossing in the dark. Rawhide and Wifey made it through with dry shoes, but I managed to slip on a submerged log and sink in up to my knees.
All of the muscles in my feet seized up after exiting the frigid water. Every step felt as though I was walking on gravel with bare feet. The three of us persevered, but we were ready for our record long day to end. Just before 11 p.m., we found a flat spot near an overgrown trail junction and called it home for the night. All three of us hit a personal best for mileage: 41.6 miles in one day. I force-fed myself my last packages of ramen and was asleep in an instant.
Our wake-up call was set for 4:30 a.m. and I was the one in charge. Bubbling with excitement knowing that this morning was Canada Day, I quickly turned off my alarm and started playing the Final Countdown for Rawhide and Wifey to wake up to. Despite two nights of short sleep, we all were awake and alert. This morning was similar to the previous, of chitchat and coffee.
As the sky started to lighten, we all emerged from our sleeping bags and made our way to Canada. I had visualized feeling super-human on this day, but really I felt run down. The cinnamon roll and candy bar diet was hitting me hard and the tape on my shoe was in tatters. Slowly but surely I made it to the top of Woody Pass and was greeted with an arctic wind. I kept hiking, but the tape on my shoe wasn’t going to last. I stopped to take recon and came to the realization that things were not looking good. As I debated whether to hike the last 15 miles in my ancient pair of Birkenstocks, a man by the name of Crumbs offered me his leftover tape. It wasn’t a lot, but it was all I needed to get to Canada.
After the final climb in the US, snow flurries began to fall and I found Wifey and Rawhide huddled near some rocks. I slammed a can of Coke (thank you to another day hiker) and we were finally on our way to Canada. The final nine miles flew by as we reminisced about our last four and a half months. Deep down, the three of us hoped to see our fellow hikers Bogey and Moana, but we were worried that they were too far ahead.
Along the trail, someone wrote out “one mile to go” and we knew the time had come for the Final Countdown. Excitement building by the second, we kept walking until we heard cheers from below—we were close. At last the song changed to We Are the Champions as we rounded the corner with the monument in sight.
In that moment, my mind disconnected from my body and I was running to the two figures at the monument—it was Bogey and Moana! The five of us started within 24 hours of each other and made it to Canada on the same day. Simply, incredible.
So many emotions flooded through me—excitement, joy, elation. I have never felt so many positive feelings in one moment. We cracked open beers, ate cinnamon rolls, and cooked one final lunch together. Wifey’s entry permit to Canada hadn’t processed, so he couldn’t join us past the border. And as quickly as this whole adventure went, it was over in an instant.
We said our goodbyes to Wifey, and we took our victory lap in separate directions. The five of us grew as humans and as a family. I wouldn’t have wanted to walk into Canada with any other people. These four guys have become my brothers. We supported one another, joked together, and suffered together. We embraced the Type II fun and ran into the final 100 miles like our hair was on fire.
The last four and a half months have been among the best in my life. I created lifelong friendships, left behind parts of myself on trail, and have gained so much in return. While the Pacific Crest Trail was one wild and crazy adventure, the journey truly begins now. The real world beckons with open arms as I put my learnings along the PCT into action.
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